'What about the siblings?'-A A +A
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
HAVE you seen this TV advertisement released last month showing a sibling spending snack time with an older brother with Down Syndrome? I have observed that there are varied reactions towards this scene: some are touched or some are happy and proud that a Person With Disability (PWD) was given importance in the advertisement while others find it petty and regard it as a poor tactic in using a PWD to attract attention and increase sales.
For me, the more significant lesson we can learn from the ad is on giving focus also to the well-being of siblings of individuals with special needs. Most often, external support are focused on the parents and caregivers and on the PWDs themselves, but seldom for the brothers and sisters of PWDs.
Support for siblings should not be taken for granted. Some parents tend to get carried away with dealing with their own acceptance and on providing for the needs of a special child. Parents often forget that siblings also have their own challenges to deal with in growing up with a brother or sister with special needs.
Researches in other countries reveal that siblings have their issues and sources of stress. Autism Society of America lists common concerns of siblings as follows: embarrassment around peers; jealousy regarding amount of time parents spend with their brother/sister; frustration over not being able to engage or get a response from their brother/sister; being the target of aggressive behaviors; trying to make up for the deficits of their brother/sister; concern regarding their parents' stress and grief; and concern over their role in future care giving.
It is therefore very important for the parents to constantly guide and make sure that the siblings understand very well the disability of their brother or sister. It is advised that information about the disability be given to the siblings as early and as often as possible, in a manner that is appropriate for their age.
If the sibling is still young, it is possible that he or she may notice some unusual behavior or characteristic in a brother or sister, and it is always best to talk or explain about situations. For example, a young child may wonder why a brother/sister is not interested in playing or talking with him/her.
For the teenagers, they may have difficulties introducing their special brother or sister to friends and classmates. Again, the emphasis is on making constant communication with the siblings and on being the “role model” when it comes to having a good relationship with the special brother or sister.
There are also other means of helping the sibling understand a brother or sister with a disability like buying storybooks for the young ones or introducing older siblings to other families to make them feel that they are not alone in this kind of situation.
Another advice we often get is to devote a regular separate time for each sibling, whether inside or outside the home, to make them feel loved and appreciated too.
Many literatures on the psychosocial, emotional, and behavioral outcomes of siblings have been written worldwide, and although there is no consensus about the subject, it is positive that siblings can adjust well to the challenges of living with a brother or sister given the proper support and guidance, coupled with a fair share of love and care from the parents.
There is a biblical phrase that says for whatever one sow, that will he also reap. The more we prepare the siblings into accepting and understanding their brother or sister, the more they can also contribute to a balanced and harmonious relationship within the family. Parents should always give a nurturing environment for the siblings as they will later on take their respective roles of being the best advocates and best providers for their brother or sister with special need.
Jane Ann S. Gonzales is a mother of a youth with autism. She is an advocate/core member of the Autism Society Philippines and Directress of the Independent Living Learning Centre (ILLC) Davao, a centre for teenagers and adults with special needs. For comments or questions, please email email@example.com
Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on August 28, 2013.